Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Everyone called him Jimmy.

This post is triggered by a recent first-time viewing (belated) of 'Life' (2015), a biopic of a very short episode in the very short life of James Dean, who memorably died in a car crash on September 30th 1955 at the age of 24, four weeks before the release of 'Rebel Without A Cause'. He never fully completed his work on Giant - overdubs on some of his dialogue was completed by Nick Adams - which spent a year in post-production before it was released in 1956.

'Life' is is set in New York and Indiana and centres on the relationship between a would-be Magnum photographer Dennis Stock and the very young James Dean, who has just completed 'East of Eden', directed by Elia Kazan and is going through the process of being groomed for stardom and prepared for the red carpet treatment at the New York Premiere. Stock is fighting wars on several fronts: his personal relationship, his struggle to convince Magnum that Dean is something special, and Dean himself who is diffident, beat, not willing to follow the rules, cool as hell.,

Let's get this straight, I generally really dislike biopics (generally not as strong as docs) and period costume pieces and films about the '40s and '50s which, these days always means a kind of brownish golden light and people with good teeth when dental practices were still pretty barbaric. So hard to get beyond the dress-up, so hard to make it feel really real.

WOW! 'Life' is the real deal and I can't stop thinking about it. Dane DeHaan is so brilliant as Dean - a truly great performance, beautifully pitched, never a false move or gesture. The warmth, the style, the vulnerability, the humanness is all there in spades. Which is not to diminish Robert Pattison's performance as Dennis Stock, an expert foil, an intensely serious, troubled and determined character, full of compressed passion, searching for that image that will get him on the cover of Life magazine.

There is tiny window of opportunity which Dean grabs and pulls Stock along with him: just in time to catch the night train to Indiana, to his aunt and uncle's farm, where he lived until he was eighteen. When his mum died(aged 29), he was 9, He was sent there on the train with his mother's coffin. His dad was drafted and never turned up for the funeral.The night they arrive and the following days are the last quiet moments for Dean.It's touchingly handled in the film without being either cheesy or saccharine.

Remember here, our director is Anton Corbijn: legendary music photographer for the NME originally I believe, stunning avatar of those U2 desert portfolio pics and now the veteran of a string of movies. 'Closer' was difficult for me as I'd just seen the Grant Gee/Jon Savage Joy Division doc which blew me away; his espionage thriller allowed us, for the last time as it turned out, to focus on the performance of the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

'Life', for me, wins the crown (to date); his career obviously in still in progress). Because Corbjin is a photographer himself, the whole handling of the photography aspect of the film is right on the button. Framing and editing lyrical. And back to Dane DeHaan and Dean. So brilliant. he must I guess have watched lots of news footage and test reels and so on and absorbed Dean's gay spirit (oft denied or camouflaged) lightly, softly. I felt for this first time, this was the real Dean. Like him, I always have a set of bongos to hand.



Clips from 1965 copies of Film & Filming, the 10th Anniversary of his death

Dean idolised Brando who had preceded him at the Actor's Studio. They only met once (below) on the set of East of Eden. According to one account, Dean was so in awe of his idol that this encounter was almost embarrassing.

'The image that Dean created on screen has survived more strongly than that of any other actor up to that time and both East of Eden and Giant have been continually re-issued in practically every country since they first appeared. Rebel Without A Cause was withdrawn from circulation some while ago, which, from the point of view of understanding Dean's appeal to youngsters in the mid 'fifties, is the key film.'

'Rebel Without a Cause was written by Stewart Stern, based on records from juvenile courts, in an attempt to find out just where the blame lay for the alarming increase in the number of arrests of minors. To the teenagers satisfaction, it was placed on the parents. 
'The opening sequence had Dean being arrested for drunkenness, having found him curled up in a street with a toy mon-key. He greets the sight of his irate mother and weak-willed, but concerned, father with a dazed 'Happy Easter, Happy Easter'. The parents start bickering at each other, which builds until Jim screams 'You're tearing me apart! You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again'.  

Juvenile officer to the rescue, and he takes Jim into his office for a quiet chat; though this doesn't start until Jim has had a futile swing at the law in protest for being talked at as though he is a 'delinquent'. 

 'It's like a zoo', he explains. 'He always wants to be my pal, you know, but how can I give him anything? I mean I love him, and all that type of stuff, an' I don't want to hurt him, but I don't know what to do, except maybe die. Now, if he had the guts to knock mum cold, then maybe she'd be happy, and she'd stop picking on him. Be-cause they make mush out of him, you know ... just ... mush: I'll tell you one thing, I don't ever want to be like him' ... 'How can a guy grow up in a circus like that?' ... 'Boy, if ... if I had one day when ... when I didn't have to be all confused and different, and feel ashamed, you know, and felt that I belonged some place ...' 

'So it has established that the 'rebel' does have a cause, that he really would like to fit into a happy family, that the parents are one step away from the divorce court, and that the law is sympathetic but powerless.  

'The whole social attitude has changed a lot since 1955. Teenage independence is accepted: most do not have to depend on grants from their family, they can go straight into a job and earn almost as much as their father. Responsibility for their actions is considered to be their own.  

'Psychology has become as tired as its theories. Psychologists still busy themselves with deciding why there were teddy-boys, beatniks and mods and rockers; why there is group hysteria for pop groups. But no one really seems to care, apart from seaside shop owners, because teenagers are spending their own money and it is their own responsibility what they do with their lives.  

 'There is no contemporary feeling in youth that can be expressed in one individual characterisation; no one seems to concern themselves so intently with their own relationship with other people. The real social problems of today are either impersonal or out of the control of the individual: nuclear menace, warfare in border states, space research, science and racial equality—they cannot provide the hero figure that would involve an audience to a point where they could feel they could do anything about it. 

'The subjects have become clinical and unemotional, the immediacy of their importance has been lost in argument and counter-argument, a series of half measures and bungling. The teenage identity is also obscure, they feel independent enough to handle their own problems without looking for an epitome of them. But this is not to say that they have fixed ideas on what they want to achieve in life, quite the reverse. It is more a playing for time, an acute awareness that they are young and that they 'have plenty of time' before they worry about the future. '

Source: 'Dean - Ten Years After' by Robin Bean. [Film and Filming October 1965]

'In James Dean, today's youth discovers itself. Less for the reasons usually advanced : violence, sadism, hysteria, pessimism, cruelty, and filth, than for others infinitely more simple and commonplace : modesty of feeling, continual fantasy life, moral purity without relation to every-day morality but all the more rigorous, eternal adolescent love of tests and trials, intoxication, pride, and regret at feeling oneself "outside" society, refusal and desire to become integrated and, finally, acceptance—or ref usal—of the world as it is'

Francois Truffaut in Arts (26.9.56) 


'Had another actor played the part, Jett's story might have borne different implications: in Dean's hands, though, it became a passionate expression of the search for identity which he above all other actors could convey.'

Douglas McVay [Films and Filming. May 1965]

25th Anniversary of Dean's death. 1980

'Every September 30, with the predictability of Capristrano swallows, the fans of James Dean descend on rural Fairmount, Ind. (pop 3500). This year is the 25th anniversary and last week the only tribute ever formally organised ib the occasion drew 1,000 admirers including actor Martin Sheen. He dedicated a bronze star at the site of Dean's birthplace in nearby Marion and a $1000 bronze plaque that he bought for the wall of Dean's high school auditorium. "Jim Dean and Elvis were the spokesman for an entire generation", says Sheene, 40'.

2005 was the 50th anniversary of Dean's death

*  Release of DVD doc 'James Dean: Forever Young' narrated by Martin Sheen.
"I was profoundly affected by his performance in East of Eden" says Sheen, who saw the flm when he was still at high school in Ohio in 1955." All three of his films had a profound affect on my life and on my work and on my generation. He transcended cinema acting. It was no longer acting it was behaving and it was deeply, deeply personal. I think it led those of his who went into the profession that if it's not personal then you shouldn't waste your time doing it.
* Germaine Greer's essay 'Mad About the Boy' was published on the 14th May 2005. The subtitle read: 'James Dean was the embodiment of young male vulnerability, heroism and torment. Who would have guessed he was gay? Fifty years after his death, it's all too obvious, argues Germaine Greer.'
'In the 1950s homosexuality was so far off the suburban radar that Jimmy Dean could give us all the visual clues, and we would see nothing. He could flirt outrageously with the camera, and get away with it. There was no gay establishment; young men growing up "different" had no easy way of identifying what it was that troubled them or why it was that they couldn't fit in with teen culture of dating and necking and boasting.'
* In 2005, Paul Alexander's book 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times and Legend of James Dean', revealed for the first time that Dean had had a secret affair with the actress Geraldine Page. They had both received training at the Actor's Studio as did Montgomery Clift and Brando. The affair was, Alexander claims, Dean's only authentic relationship with a woman; other heterosexual activity was the invention of studio publicists. 'Before and after Page, Dean's major relationships were with men.

* Other accounts disagree. George Perry's book 'James Dean' (also published in 2005) which contains a lot of family memorabilia claims he had 'an impressive number of girlfriends including Ursula Andress and Pier Angeli. Dean had taken up photography himself, using a Rolliflex and took hours photographing Angeli.

* 'James Dean: 50 years ago' by Dennis Stock is all the pictures he took when they went to Indiana. In a piece in The Times magazine by Joe Hyams (16th april 2005) it seems some details of the real story differ from the film.

Stock and Dean first met at a Sunday soiree at director Nicholas Ray's bungalow in the garden of he Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. They discovered they both knew the eminent Life photographer Gjon Mili. He had directed Dean's screen test for Kazan for 'East of Eden'. Dean mentioned he'd just worked with Kazan and invited him to a sneak preview at a Santa Monica theatre. Stunned by what he saw, he arranged to meet Dean for breakfast the next dy. Dean started waxing lyrica about his childhoos in Indiana and Stock sad he wanted to do a visual biography of those times, the origin of the actor. Jimmy said he was flying to New York to tidy up some loose ends and was then planning to send a few days at the farm. He invited Stock. 

Feb 1955 they flew together to New York. They hung out and Stock started taking pictures, including the iconic shot in the rain with the long coat and the cigarette in Times Square. They then flew from New York to Indianapolis and then tok a bus to Fairmount

I'm presuming Joe Hyman interviewed Dennis Stock: he quotes him saying at the end: 'Dennis is still pained by the loss of his friend'
" We were both saddened by the end of the week in Fairmont. I think we both knew that Jimmy would never come back home again and that life would never be the same for him there. The trip was really a nostalgic farewell to his origins, his ay of saying goodbye to the past. I don't mean to imply that he felt he was going to die, but I believe that he felt that he was truly on the way to a different life.'


When James Dean’s Porsche Spyder crashed 50 years ago, killing the actor just before the premiere ofRebel Without a Cause, his legend was sealed. But the director who gave Dean that immortal role, Nicholas Ray, has been virtually forgotten. Examining Ray’s genius, his loves (including Natalie Wood and, perhaps, Sal Mineo), and the addictions that ruined him, the author recaptures the dramas behind Rebel Without a Cause, as well as the bond shattered by Dean’s death.

Fabulous article by Sam Kashner in Vanity Fair  [March 2005]. I got to know something about Ray through Wim Wender's film 'The American Friend' and the subsequent doc he did about Ray's last months on earth. This article opens many interesting ideas and avenues for further investigation. One of my favourite bits is this:

'Elvis Presley was obsessed with the movie, and he worshipped James Dean. “I was sitting in the cafeteria at MGM one day,” Ray recalled, “and Elvis Presley came over. He knew I was a friend of Jimmy’s and had directed Rebel, so he got down on his knees before me and began to recite whole passages of dialogue from the script. Elvis must have seen Rebel a dozen times by then and remembered every one of Jimmy’s lines.” Martin Sheen—who played the Dean look-alike inspired by spree killer Charlie Starkweather in Terrence Malick’s 1973 Badlands—once wrote, “There were only two people in the fifties: Elvis Presley who changed the music, and James Dean who changed our lives.”

Daily Mirror. 14th Feb 1976
On the night of February 12, 1976, actor Sal Mineo returned home following a rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. After parking his car in the carport below his West Hollywood apartment, the 37-year-old actor was stabbed in the heart by a mugger who quickly fled the scene. Police pursued all kinds of leads but assumed the crime to be the result of some sort of “homosexual motivation.” 

Three years later, pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams was convicted of the murder, in addition to a number of local robberies. Williams, who claimed he had no idea who the actor was at the time of the stabbing, had bragged about the murder and his wife later confirmed that on the night Mineo died, Williams had come home with blood on his shirt. He was paroled in the early 1990s.

Mineo made his initial mark in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, as Plato, a bullied teen, understandably lovestruck at the first sight of James Dean’s character. The role would earn him an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor and establish him as a major heartthrob to teenagers of the era. The next year he appeared in a small role in another Dean film, Giant. He launched a briefly successful recording career, headlined several motion pictures that played up his status as a rebel icon, and would garner another Oscar nod for 1960’s epic Exodus.  

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